Three years ago, I traded for Jorge Soler in my fantasy league over the offseason. Soler was just 24 at the time and showed a lot of promise. He hit 12 home runs in just 264 PAs, significantly increased his walks (7.9% to 11.7), and just as significantly decreased his strikeouts (30% to 25%). His BABIP was a mere .276, but he had a respectable season with the bat anyway. It was easy for me to assume that Soler was primed to break out in the next year — if not maybe two years — and, with a shallow outfield, I decided that dealing for him was a no-brainer.
The only problem was that I traded Luis Severino for him.
The silver lining of this regrettable, godawful deal was that I had the privilege of watching Jorge Soler struggle for the next two seasons thereafter, wallowing in self-pity as he bounced between Kansas City’s AAA affiliate, their Major League bench, and the IL, while Severino picked up two consecutive All-Star appearances and a $40M extension. But Soler finally picked up this past season — with production Kansas City has never seen before.
Before the season, the Royals had never seen a 40-home run season in the entirety of their 50-year history. Soler took pitchers deep 48 times in 2019, more than doubling his career total (38 in 307 games), and putting the Royals’ otherwise-mediocre lineup on his back. And have you watched this guy hit? It’s not like a lot of his homers are just getting past the wall into the first row. We’re talking bombs. 110-mile-an-hour liners. Violent dingers. Really just some seriously aggressive hacks. He’s realized his potential in his age-27 season, and it’s been fun to watch.
Soler’s 136 wRC+, 117 RBI, .923 OPS, and 3.6 WAR led all Royals hitters by significant margins. He barreled up on the ball 70 times, leading the Majors by four barrels. His 92.6 MPH exit velocity and 49.9% hard-hit percentage both rank among the 96th percentile in the league, and his ISO ranks sixth in the Majors. He’s been crushing fastballs (.473 xwOBA) and has steadily improved on his recognition of offspeed pitches (.385 xwOBA), though his ability to hit breaking pitches is still rough (.291 xwOBA). He’s tough to match up against in relief situations, as his bat was nearly as powerful against lefties (125 wRC+) as righties (140 wRC+).
It doesn’t seem like this will end up as an outlier year, either. Soler’s numbers show that this level of output is sustainable. His xSLG and xwOBA remain among elite company, in the 98th and 95th percentile of the league, respectively. Of course, Soler is still far from a perfect player. His defense is bad enough to keep him hidden at the DH spot. His baserunning isn’t tremendous, either. He’s still striking out 26.2% of the time, which is common among power-heavy hitters. He’s essentially the ultimate archetype of a Major League slugger in the juiced ball era. Still, Soler is one of the most productive bats in the league, and that’s absolutely a huge win for Kansas City — who may either trade him with a season on his contract remaining, or extend him considering he’s just 27 — and a win for me, who knew that Jorge Soler would be good all along.